Our Favorite Books of 2015

DescentDescent by Tim Johnston
Genre:  Literary Thriller
Publisher:  Algonquin Books
Publication Date:  January 6, 2015

What’s it about:
The Rocky Mountains have cast their spell over the Courtlands, who are taking a family vacation before their daughter leaves for college. But when Caitlin and her younger brother, Sean, go out for an early morning run and only Sean returns, the mountains become as terrifying as they are majestic.

Written with a precision that captures every emotion, every moment of fear, as each member of the family searches for answers, Descent races like an avalanche toward its heart-pounding conclusion.

Heather’s Thoughts:  I was captivated by this literary thriller, which is both suspenseful and beautifully written.

 

The Hourglass FactoryThe Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester
Genre:  Historical
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster (UK)
Publication Date:  January 15, 2015

What’s it about:
It’s 1912 and Frankie George is determined to make her mark in the cut-throat world of journalism. She longs to write something that isn’t for the ladies’ pages, but she isn’t impressed when she’s given the opportunity to interview a famous trapeze artist and suffragette, Ebony Diamond. For all her trouser-wearing and bicycle-riding, Frankie doesn’t align herself with the suffrage movement—but that doesn’t mean that she’s apathetic when Ebony Diamond disappears in the middle of her big act, especially when it appears that someone is trying to hunt Ebony down. Getting to the bottom of Ebony’s disappearance would make for a great story, and prove to Frankie’s boss that she’s able to write about more than fashion and homemaking. However, the deeper Frankie digs into Ebony’s background, the more convoluted the story becomes. Who wants Ebony dead? Is it the politicians she’s angered with her suffrage demonstrations? One of the mysterious characters who frequents Ebony’s corset shop? Or a fellow suffragette who disagrees with Ebony’s extreme militarism? Before long, Frankie has to admit that she’s investigating Ebony’s disappearance for more than just a story. Someone wants to murder Ebony Diamond, and ruin the suffragette cause once and for all. Can Frankie get to the bottom of the mystery before someone gets to her?

Rachel’s Thoughts:  It’s a mystery about trapeze artists and suffragettes. Why wouldn’t you want to read it? This debut novel totally blew me away with its rich historical detail, intricate mystery and fabulously real characters. I’ve been recommending this book to people all year long. I had the opportunity to hear Lucy speak at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this summer and I’m excited to see what she comes up with next.

 

The Pharaoh's Daughter ResizedThe Pharaoh’s Daughter by Mesu Andrews
Genre:  Biblical Fiction
Publisher:  WaterBrook
Publication Date:  March 17, 2015

What’s it about:
Anippe has grown up in the shadows of Egypt’s good god Pharaoh, aware that Anubis, god of the afterlife, may take her or her siblings at any moment. She watched him snatch her mother and infant brother during childbirth, a moment which awakens in her a terrible dread of ever bearing a child. Now she is to be become the bride of Sebak, a kind but quick-tempered Captain of Pharaoh Tut’s army. In order to provide Sebak the heir he deserves and yet protect herself from the underworld gods, Anippe must launch a series of deceptions, even involving the Hebrew midwives—women ordered by Tut to drown the sons of their own people in the Nile.

When she finds a baby floating in a basket on the great river, Anippe believes Egypt’s gods have answered her pleas, entrenching her more deeply in deception and placing her and her son Mehy, whom handmaiden Miriam calls Moses, in mortal danger.

As bloodshed and savage politics shift the balance of power in Egypt, the gods reveal their fickle natures and Anippe wonders if her son, a boy of Hebrew blood, could one day become king. Or does the god of her Hebrew servants, the one they call El Shaddai, have a different plan—for them all?

Beth’s Thoughts:  This novel has a bit of everything – danger, court and political intrigues, familial and romantic love and a beautiful tale of redemption that encompasses the entire story. The spiritual aspect feels very authentic and natural to the story, and I related to main character Anippe’s fears and doubts. Seeing her progress from fear to hope was very uplifting. It was a thoroughly entertaining, enlightening and profound read that kept me turning those pages well past time to turn in for the night.

 

From the StartFrom the Start by Melissa Tagg
Genre:  Contemporary
Publisher:  Bethany House
Publication Date:  April 7, 2015

What’s it about:
Kate Walker used to believe in true love and happily ever after. While her own love life may have left her brokenhearted, it hasn’t kept her from churning out made-for-TV romance movie screenplays…until a major career slump and a longing to do something meaningful send her running back to her hometown of Maple Valley.

Permanently sidelined by an injury, former NFL quarterback Colton Greene is temporarily hiding out in a friend’s hometown to avoid the media and the reminders of all he’s lost. Maple Valley seems like the perfect place to learn how to adjust to normal life. The only trouble is he’s never really done normal before.

While Kate plays things safe and Colton is all about big risks and grand gestures, they both get what it’s like to desperately need direction in life. An unexpected project gives them both a chance to jumpstart their new lives, but old wounds and new dreams are hard to ignore. Starting over wasn’t part of the plan, but could it be the best thing that’s ever happened to them?

Beth’s Thoughts:  When it comes to contemporary reads, I tend to stick with a few authors in the genre, the one’s I have confidence in, and that’s about it. I know for sure that I will never be disappointed with a book by Melissa Tagg Her characters come to life, the dialogue sparkles and the events of the story are poignant, humorous and uplifting. I could tell that Melissa put her heart into these characters; there was such a great ring of truth to everything within the story. They are involved in each other’s lives in a realistic way. Their interactions are nuanced and detailed in ways that made this reader smile.

 

A God in RuinsA God in Ruins by Katie Atkinson
Genre:  Literary
Publisher:  Little, Brown, & Co
Publication Date:  May 5, 2015

What’s it about:
Kate Atkinson’s dazzling Life After Life explored the possibility of infinite chances and the power of choices, following Ursula Todd as she lived through the turbulent events of the last century over and over again.

A God in Ruins tells the dramatic story of the 20th Century through Ursula’s beloved younger brother Teddy–would-be poet, heroic pilot, husband, father, and grandfather-as he navigates the perils and progress of a rapidly changing world. After all that Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge is living in a future he never expected to have.

An ingenious and moving exploration of one ordinary man’s path through extraordinary times, A God in Ruins proves once again that Kate Atkinson is one of the finest novelists of our age.

Melissa’s Thoughts:  This book has one of my favorite characters of all times.  I fell in love with Teddy Todd and truly wish he was a real person.  But beyond Teddy, this book is an emotional up and down story that mirrors what we see in the world around us.  The beautiful writing, compelling story, and fantastic main character makes A God in Ruins a favorite.

 

The Thorn BearerThe Thorn Bearer by Pepper D. Basham
Genre:  Historical Romance
Publisher:  Vinspire Publishing
Publication Date:  May 7, 2015

What’s it about:
From the decks of the ill-fated Lusitania to the smoke-filled trenches of France, Ashleigh must choose between the forgiveness of her past, life in the present, and a Savior who can rescue her from them all.

When her fiancé leaves her eight months before their wedding, the unexpected blow ignites a battalion of insecurities stemming from her father’s intimate betrayal. Her worst fears are confirmed – who could ever love a soiled woman? In an attempt to escape the shame and disappointment of her past, Ashleigh boards the ill-fated Lusitania to cross the war-torn waters of Europe. Much to her dismay, she isn’t traveling alone.

Sam Miller is always making up for his best friend’s mistakes. Determined to help Ashleigh, he offers his compassion and protection as she ventures across a perilous sea. With the faint hope of renewing his lost love for Ashleigh’s sister, Sam never expects to find the woman of his dreams in his best friend’s former fiancé and his own childhood companion.

As they travel across the Atlantic, neither is prepared for the life-altering and heart-breaking journey of their friendship. When the truth of Ashleigh’s past explodes in the middle of war and Sam rejects her, Ashleigh must decide if God is enough – or if the double weight of her betrayal and past will crush her life forever.

Carrie’s Thoughts:  Woven together with rich characters, poetic language, riveting history, wry humor, and heart-wrenching secrets, The Thorn Bearer is a book that will draw you in and refuse to let go. What drew me unequivocally to The Thorn Bearer was Pepper Basham’s lilting prose and the message of restoration – brokenness leads us all overboard and our Savior waits patiently for us to accept the rescue He offers. It isn’t often that I finish a fictional book and pause to reflect on it in silence for several minutes, but I did in this case. Even after I finished the last word, this story resonated throughout my spirit for a good long while. This one will be a favorite for years to come.

 

Hearts Made WholeHearts Made Whole by Jody Hedlund
Genre:  Historical Romance
Publisher:  Bethany House
Publication Date:  May 16, 2015

What’s it about:
After her father’s death, Caroline Taylor has grown confident running the Windmill Point Lighthouse. But in 1865 Michigan, women aren’t supposed to have such roles, so it’s only a matter of time before the lighthouse inspector appoints a new keeper–even though Caroline has nowhere else to go and no other job available to her.

Ryan Chambers is a Civil War veteran still haunted by the horrors of battle. He’s secured the position of lighthouse keeper mostly for the isolation–the chance to hide from his past is appealing. He’s not expecting the current keeper to be a feisty and beautiful woman who’s angry with him for taking her job and for his inability to properly run the light. When his failings endanger others, he and Caroline realize he’s in no shape to run the lighthouse, but he’s unwilling to let anyone close enough to help. Caroline feels drawn to this wounded soul, but with both of them relying on that single position, can they look past their loss to a future filled with hope…and possibly love?

Rachel’s Thoughts:  Whenever I read one of Jody’s novels, I worry that it’s not going to live up to its predecessor. Somehow, she continues to come up with new storylines that feature wonderfully flawed characters whose romances sizzle with just the right amount of chemistry. This novel also has a wonderful depiction of addiction, as well as the struggles that women faced working in the world of lighthouse keeping in the late nineteenth century. These little snippets of history always interest me!

 

JustifiedJustified by Varina Denman
Genre:  Contemporary
Publisher:  David C. Cook
Publication Date:  June 1, 2015

What’s it about:
In a small Texas town ruled by gossip, Fawn Blaylock believes others are justified in condemning her untimely pregnancy. Stifled by guilt, she yearns for grace while the local football coach treats her with gentle respect.

Justified perfectly captures the rhythm and romance of life in a small town, telling the unforgettable story of a woman searching for renewal, a man looking beyond what others see, and a community torn between judgment and love. It is the unforgettable story of broken dreams, second chances, and relentless hope.

Carrie’s Thoughts:  Justified is the prodigals’ story – the ones who came home and the ones who kept walking.  I loved Jaded (the first book in the series as well as Varina Denman’s debut novel), and because it was the first book I officially reviewed it will always have a special place in my heart.  In fact, I was all set to accept the fact that Justified just wasn’t going to be as good.  Much to my surprise, I found I actually loved it even more than I had loved Jaded! Varina’s uniquely smooth writing voice pulled me in once again, and this particular story resonated so deeply with me.  Justified is a beautifully written novel of second chances – giving them, knowing when to stop, and learning the fine line between the two.  It’s also a story of relentless hope and the reminder that God meets us where we are… if we just stop long enough to look for Him.

 

A Worthy PursuitA Worthy Pursuit by Karen Witemeyer
Genre:  Historical Romance
Publisher:  Bethany House
Publication Date:  June 2, 2015

What’s it about:
A teacher on the run. A bounty hunter in pursuit. Can two enemies learn to trust each other before they both lose what they hold most dear?

Stone Hammond is the best tracker in Texas. He never comes home empty-handed. So when a wealthy railroad investor hires him to find his abducted granddaughter, Stone eagerly accepts.

Charlotte Atherton, former headmistress of Sullivan’s Academy for Exceptional Youths, will do anything to keep her charges safe, especially the orphaned girl entrusted to her care. Charlotte promised Lily’s mother she’d keep the girl away from her unscrupulous grandfather, and nothing will stop Charlotte from fulfilling that pledge. Not even the handsome bounty hunter with surprisingly honest eyes who comes looking for them.

When Miss Atherton produces documentation that shows her to be Lily’s legal guardian, Stone must reevaluate everything he’s been led to believe. Is she villain or victim?

Then a new danger forces Charlotte to trust the man sent to destroy her. Stone vows to protect what he once sought to tear apart. Besides, he’s ready to start a new pursuit: winning Charlotte’s heart.

Sara’s Thoughts:  This Christian historical romance has everything that I love about the genre – good spiritual aspects, interesting characters, a unique plot, witty dialogue – and as a bonus, it had a dashing hero. I felt that Karen Witemeyer really got back to her writing roots with this novel, and I really enjoyed it.

 

Through Waters DeepThrough Waters Deep by Sarah Sundin
Genre:  Historical Romance
Publisher:  Revell
Publication Date:  August 4, 2015

What’s it about:
War is coming. Can love carry them through the rough waters that lie ahead?

It is 1941 and America teeters on the brink of war. Handsome and outgoing naval officer Ensign Jim Avery escorts British convoys across the North Atlantic in a brand-new destroyer, the USS Atwood. On shore, Jim encounters Mary Stirling, a childhood friend who is now an astute and beautiful Boston Navy Yard secretary.

When evidence of sabotage on the Atwood is discovered, Jim and Mary must work together to uncover the culprit. A bewildering maze of suspects emerges, and Mary is dismayed to find that even someone close to her is under suspicion. With the increasing pressure, Jim and Mary find that many new challenges–and dangers–await them.

Sara’s Thoughts:  I have been looking forward to this new series from author Sarah Sundin for some time, and it did not disappoint. The time period – 1941 as America is on the brink of WWII – was fascinating, and the characters were very relatable. I’m very much looking forward to reading about these characters in the next book in the series.

 

Above the WaterfallAbove the Waterfall by Ron Rash
Genre:  Literary
Publisher:  September 8, 2015
Publication Date:  Ecco

What’s it about:
In this poetic and haunting tale set in contemporary Appalachia, New York Times bestselling author Ron Rash illuminates lives shaped by violence and a powerful connection to the land.

Les, a long-time sheriff just three-weeks from retirement, contends with the ravages of crystal meth and his own duplicity in his small Appalachian town.

Becky, a park ranger with a harrowing past, finds solace amid the lyrical beauty of this patch of North Carolina.

Enduring the mistakes and tragedies that have indelibly marked them, they are drawn together by a reverence for the natural world. When an irascible elderly local is accused of poisoning a trout stream, Les and Becky are plunged into deep and dangerous waters, forced to navigate currents of disillusionment and betrayal that will force them to question themselves and test their tentative bond—and threaten to carry them over the edge.

Heather’s Thoughts:  Ron Rash’s latest novel is tender and poetic and all around lovely.

 

The Perfect ArrangementThe Perfect Arrangement: An October Wedding Story by Katie Ganshert
Genre:  Contemporary Romance
Publisher:  Zondervan
Publication Date:  September 29, 2015

What’s it about:
Amelia Woods is a small-town wallflower and the proud owner of Forget-Me-Nots, a quaint flower shop that once belonged to her mother. Despite her success in business, her love life has always been a bit lackluster. Until she spies on her ex-boyfriend’s wedding and ends up in horrifyingly embarrassing fender-bender with handsome wedding guest, Nate Gallagher.

Meanwhile, Amelia’s younger brother, William, has proposed to his girlfriend. Amelia would be excited except she has evidence that the fiancée is not who she says she is. How can she be supportive and yet be the protective big sister too? It seems Nate is the only one available for any advice-giving, and he’s good at it–and pretty fun to talk to, too. Amelia and Nate strike up an online relationship, but always lingering in Amelia’s mind is the fear that he’ll realize she’s not nearly as appealing in real life.

As Amelia works to craft the perfect flower arrangements for other people, she begins to wonder if real love is better than the dream. And if it is, will Nate still be interested when he learns who she is?

Megan’s Thoughts:  The Perfect Arrangement won the 2015 Novella Carol Award, because it’s good—really good. And it’s my favorite in the Novella Wedding Series to date. A hint of Cinderella meets Dear Mr. Knightley (by Katherine Reay) meets the movie You Got Mail. Except in Ms. Ganshert story everyone knows who they’re emailing—at least most of the time. Not all the story is in email form, but a lot of it is, and I loved it!

 

A Time to SpeakA Time to Speak (Out of Time Series Book 2) by Nadine Brandes
Genre:  Dystopian/Fantasy
Publisher:  Enclave
Publication Date:  October 16, 2015

What’s it about:
What happens when you live longer than you wanted to?

Parvin Blackwater wanted to die, but now she’s being called to be a leader. The only problem is, no one wants to follow.

The Council uses Jude’s Clock-matching invention to force “new-and-improved” Clocks on the public. Those who can’t afford one are packed into boxcars like cattle and used for the Council’s purposes.

Parvin and Hawke find themselves on a cargo ship of Radicals headed out to sea. What will the Council do to them? And why are people suddenly dying before their Clocks have zeroed-out?

Megan’s Thoughts:  A story that provides a sense of hope, an awaking to love, the desire for purpose in real everyday life, and a call to act with a huge helping of page turning adventure. This book has a little of everything, including a cliff hanger of an ending. A story to be enjoyed by more than just dystopian fans, a must read for all.

 

EstherEsther by Rebecca Kanner
Genre:  Biblical Fiction
Publisher:  Howard Books
Publication Date:  November 3, 2015

What’s it about:
A glittering Persian king has a vast empire that reaches farther than where the sun meets the horizon. He is bathed in riches and commands a frightening military force. He possesses power beyond any other mortal man and rules his kingdom as a god. Anything he desires, he has. Any woman he wants, he possesses. Thousands of them. Young virgins from all across his many lands.

A Jewish girl is ripped from her hut by the king’s brutish warriors and forced to march across blistering, scorched earth to the capitol city. Trapped for months in the splendid cage of the king’s palace, she must avoid the ire of the king’s concubines and eunuchs all while preparing for her one night with the king. Soon the fated night arrives, and she does everything in her power to captivate the king and become his queen.

But wearing the crown brings with it a new set of dangers. When a ruthless man plies the king’s ear with whispers of genocide, it is up to the young queen to prevent the extermination of the Jews. She must find the strength within to violate the king’s law, risk her life, and save her people.

This is a story of finding hidden depths of courage within one’s self. Of risking it all to stand up for what is right.

This is the story of Queen Esther. 

Melissa’s Thoughts:  I was blown away by this book.  In Esther, Rebecca creates an amazing story to go along with a well known Biblical character.  She dives deep into the world of ancient harems and highlights the political turmoil of the time.  However, there is a great balance to Esther that keeps the book from being bogged down in ancient history or simply retelling what’s already in the Bible.  This is a wonderfully written book in a genre that’s not particularly easy to write.

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